It’s been 21 years since Quantum Leap went off the air, and I still think about it more than I probably should. I like to think that the Quantum Leap finale prepared me for the disappointing Seinfeld finale, and that if I had not known that crushing disappointment, the Lost finale would’ve sent me into a weeks’ long funk of depression. Quantum Leap taught me how to cope with the kind of devastation only a years’ long obsession with a television show that craps out in the end can deliver.
THAT ENDING MADE NO F***ING SENSE.
I mean, look: It’s not exactly show creator Donald Bellisario’s fault. At least on shows like Lost and Dexter that took a crap on their viewers in the end, Bellisario wasn’t working toward a finale. The last episode of Quantum Leap that aired — “Mirror Image – August 8, 1953” — wasn’t designed as a series finale, but a season finale that Bellisario took and just tacked some extra crap on to give viewers a sense of closure. Hell, it was so rushed together that they didn’t even spell the main character’s name correctly in this subtitle (Beckett has two Ts):
But the truth, according to some suggestions, is that the original intended episode wasn’t much better, that the god-like being in that episode was supposed to an alien, that Dr. Sam Beckett was going to leap into the distant future, and that Al was also going to become a leaper and chase down Sam in the future. I don’t know how true that is, but given the way things were going in that final season — Sam began leaping into the bodies of famous people and/or famous adjacent people and never forget the Evil Leapers (NEVER FORGET) — I wouldn’t put it past Bellisario to bring in space aliens.
But that didn’t happen, and what we were left with after five fantastic seasons of sci-fi television (a rarity back in the 90s) was complete nonsense. Here’s a quick refresher: Sam leaps into a bar in 1953, on the day of his birthday. He looked into the mirror and for the first time, he saw himself. He’s leaped into his own body (nevermind that his body at the time was a baby). In that bar, he mostly met people with whom he’d met in his travels over the years, only they shared the names of the people who helped him leap around: Ziggy, Gushy, Al.
It felt like something really big was happening, that Sam would have a conversation with Al the bartender (a man we’d seen in the pilot episode) that would answer all the questions we had about the show, about Sam Beckett, about why he was leaping, ABOUT THE COSMOS.
Instead, the episode crapped out. Sam decided to leap back to the Vietnam era to tell Beth’s ex-wife to wait for him (originally, Al was MIA, and when he returned, his wife had shacked up with another man), basically changing the entire timeline because Al would end up with Beth and have four kids, and how would he have enough time to DEVOTE HIS LIFE TO HELPING SAM LEAP AROUND?
In the end, despite the fact that the premise of the show asked when Sam would leap back home, he decided never to stop leaping, to forever put right what was wrong. There was just too much evil left in the world.
Would we ever find out who really developed the Quantum Leap accelerator? NO! (But we were to assume that Sam did it himself). Would Sam ever find out more about his life before he began leaping? NO. Would we find out what the “unknown force” that was driving him was? NO (It was probably Sam). How was it even possible that only Sam could see and hear Al’s hologram? How did that hologram travel in time? Was Al the Bartender God? Or was he Sam? WAS SAM HAVING A CONVERSATION WITH HIMSELF?
We’ll never f**king know because NBC pulled the plug on the series before they could develop a proper ending. But who even knows if they had more time if they could’ve come up with something much better. That’s the problem with shows like these that present unanswerable questions. By their very nature, THEY CAN’T BE ANSWERED.
But it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Poor Sam would never go home, and I’d never get resolution. Quantum Leap ruined me, but it also prepared me for a life of television disappointments. So when George R.R. Martin drops dead, and HBO slaps an ending together that makes Theon Greyjoy the new King of Westeros and Arya his child bride, it may suck, but by God, I’ll be ready for it.